Governor Sarah Palin's speech tonight was harsh, pandering, and full of factual inaccuracies. And it breathed life into the dying McCain campaign, which seemed headed for a landslide defeat.
It was only earlier today when MSNBC's microphones caught two leading conservative commentators, Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy, calling the McCain campaign "over," the Palin pick "cynical," and "bullshit," and agreeing that Palin was not the most qualified woman McCain could have picked.
Many commentators had raised the spectre of Eagleton, and suggested that Palin wouldn't make it to the end of the convention, and would be replaced by Mitt Romney.
What a difference a night makes.
Most of the criticisms of Sarah Palin are accurate. She isn't qualified to be president. She doesn't have any foreign policy experience. She has abused her power as governor. And she isn't squeaky clean when it comes fighting the system.But by throwing the kitchen sink at Palin and demeaning her, the Democratic bloggers and pundits committed the same cardinal sin that McCain had against Obama--they had stuck their necks out too far, leaving themselves vulnerable to a counterattack.
(By the way, when Obama says his campaign was not behind the attacks on Palin, I believe him. The Axe and company are too smart to fall into McCain's trap. Too bad for them that the rest of the Democratic party are too short-sighted and undisciplined to follow orders. They've been given a once-in-a-generation gift in Obama's natural talent, and they're still trying to squander it!)
Palin sank the axe into their necks with gusto.
Here's what Obama supported Clive Crook of the Atlantic Monthly had to say:
Astonishing. It was a fine convention speech--but, reading the text, no better than very good. What was just sensational, far exceeding my expectations, was the delivery. After the thrashing she has received from press and television in the past few days, knowing what was at stake for the party and for John McCain as she stood at the podium, with a good part of the nation watching and waiting for her to trip, her composure and self-assurance were simply amazing. Who could fail to be moved by this? And it was even more impressive than it looked, because the waves of adulation from the audience kept interrupting her momentum: they did not know it, but at times the audience was making it harder for her. Yet she never looked hesitant or thrown. She paused when she had to and controlled the timing. She actually seemed comfortable. If ever there were a political natural, we saw one tonight.
That's my conclusion as well. The speech was a B+; it relied too much on simple-minded pandering. Palin's delivery was an A-; she started slow, and took some time to hit her stride. But in terms of effectiveness, it was a solid A, and just as strong strategically as Barack Obama's acceptance speech last week.
America had been hearing all week that Palin was unqualified, that she was a lightweight former beauty queen, and that she was a bad mother. What they saw tonight was a tough, eloquent, commanding woman with a loving family that most would envy.
Even more, what Palin's speech did was redefine the battle lines of the campaign. McCain had been attacking Barack Obama on experience, claiming he was a lightweight. While Palin continued this line of attack, she did so largely as a defensive measure to counter the criticisms of her own swift ascent.
Rather, what Palin did was shift the terms of the debate to moral and cultural grounds. Obama had been making hay from McCain's blunder in not knowing how many houses he owned. Palin scotches that because she, like Obama, rose from humble beginnings. Even better, she is a genuine moose-stewing hockey mom, a small-town girl made good.
As my friends in the Bay Area often forget, a good portion of this country believes that small towns are better than sinful metropolises, and that a local girl from Wasilla is more fit to lead than an egghead with a Harvard Law degree.
She also aimed straight at family values voters, with her ridiculously telegenic family providing the backdrop for a dream narrative: high school sweethearts, 5 kids, son getting ready to deploy to Iraq, other son providing a living testament to the pro-life movement. And when her youngest daughter licked her hand to pat her infant brother's hair back into place? Political gold. There was definitely some high-fiving in the war room when that happened.
Bottom line: Less affluent, less-educated white Americans don't like being called bitter, don't like hearing religion and guns disparaged, and don't like educated eggheads telling them what to do (even if the advice is for their own good). They'd much rather vote for a war hero and a hockey mom whom they can relate to than a big-city intellectual who thinks he's better than them.
My snap judgment when McCain picked Palin was that it was a smart, strategic move. In the wake of tonight, I'm going to have to upgrade it to "brilliant" and possibly even "game-changing."
Not only did Palin dispel any lingering doubts about her place on the ticket (at this point, there's a much greater chance that the Republicans would dump *McCain* than Palin), she also showed that she had the chops to go after Obama like a pit bull with lipstick. The skill with which she delivered insulting and slanderous attacks was astonishing; she slipped the knife into the ribs with a smile.
Just as Obama did a great job of attacking McCain (the disappointed tone when he said that McCain wasn't a bad man, just out of touch was masterful), so too Palin did a great job of reviving nearly every successful attack on Obama from earlier in the campaign.
If Obama is the liberal Reagan, Palin is the female Nixon, but with charisma.
(Those who mock Nixon fail to realize that he was a master politician who managed to win two elections as VP and two elections as President, something no other man or woman has EVER done, despite the handicaps of a modest upbringing, unimpressive background, a complete lack of charisma, and being hated by nearly 50% of the electorate for over 20 years.)
My reactions after Palin's speech can be summed up in four words: A Star Is Born.
Sarah Palin is the future of the Republican party. She has already eclipsed McCain, Huckabee, Romney, and Giuliani in the hearts of the activists. The sound you just heard was the death rattle of their collective political futures.
I expect Palin to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, setting up a true battle royale between her and President Obama.
The fact remains that Obama should be heavily favored to win the 2008 election. But Palin can use this election cycle as a launching pad. Absurd? So was the notion that just four years after being introduced to the nation during the Democratic National Convention, a previously unknown "skinny black kid with a funny name" would be on the verge of the presidency.
To quote Brooks and Dunn, "Only in America."